One-on-one time with an adult in a room filled with toys and very little restrictions? What kid would want to leave!!
Ending a play therapy session can be a bit tricky at times, but I have found that consistency and ritual can make it much easier.
I always give the child a five minute warning before the end of the session. This is part of the regular structuring of the session that is stressed by play therapy guru, Garry Landreth.
When the 5 minutes are up and it’s time to end the session, I get up and ask the child if they would like to pick one thing from one of my jars. I have 3 Jars.
pom-pons Warm Fuzzies … these are to help them remember about happy and fun times in their lives. (I got the “warm fuzzy” idea from some workshop I attended but I can’t for the life of me recall who the original source is … if you know PLEASE let me know!) The middle jar has a bunch of stickers of all different kinds. And the 3rd Jar is the “Inspiration” Jar and has “lunch box cards” … which I call to my clients “cards with special messages on them”. Each card is unique and has a tab they can lift up to read a encouraging message. The kind I use were made by Compendium Incorporated and called “Lunch Mail”. They have updated the designs on the cards but the concept is exactly the same. They now come in three different designs … I usually order one of each set (each has 24 cards with different messages) at a time.
Taking one item from one of the jars becomes a transitional ritual at the end of each session. This way they can take a part of me and their work in therapy with them. The token helps shift their attention and switch gears from therapy back to the outside world. It happens at the end of every session so it is consistent and something they can count on.
There are other therapeutic pieces that go along with this weekly activity. The child has to make a choice … actually a couple choices. He or she must choose which jar they want to take from (if any) … and which color or size; or sticker; or card. For some it’s really hard to make these decisions. The activity gives me some insight on how they make decisions and I can also see if any progress is made over time. They also have to manage handling a limit. They can only have ONE item each week. Of course many times kids will try to bargain taking one from EACH jar … or say they want to give one to a sibling/parent/friend. Since limit setting is often a key element for many of the children I see in therapy it offers a hands-on view of how the cope with boundaries. (I even had a parent get mad at me years ago when I wouldn’t let her child take more than one … very telling!)
Notice that I DO NOT have candy in any of the jars. (My clients usually do.) I tried having years ago … and sadly the kids really seemed to focus on getting the candy more than the session. Also, I don’t want to play into bad relationships with food … seeing food as a reward.
Of course you don’t have to have all three (or only 3) jars to do this type of transitional activity. I first started off with just the stickers … and then added the other two. Use what works for you and the children you work with.
If you are a therapist I’d love to hear ways in which you have your children clients transition from the play room! Leave a comment below!!!
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Laura Hutchison (aka PlayDrMom) is a chubby kid turned competitive figure skater tween turned high school pom pon girl turned MSU Spartan turned grad student turned Mrs. HutcH turned Dr. turned Mom. She adores living in the Mitten, is addicted to Diet Coke, and firmly believes that ice cream is a main food group.